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A dose of reality

Multiculturalism is proving to be a road of godless quicksand

Issue: "Upside down," April 9, 2011

If the world at large right now seems like a wacky place, and if you've lost the ability to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad around the globe, and if it seems that the president and his team in Washington have utterly lost track of their own foreign policy goals-well, then, may I suggest just one issue here we all need to get straight? We need to quit worshipping at the altar of pluralism and multiculturalism.

For most of the last generation, a drumbeat of support for such supposed virtues has stifled all challenges. We used to call it "tolerance." But somewhere along the line, old-fashioned tolerance got gobbled up by a politically correct insistence that nothing in this vast world is better than anything else. Nobody's government, nobody's culture, nobody's religion, nobody's music, nobody's system of healthcare-nobody's anything should be seen as superior to someone else's.

At first glance, it may seem I've got all this exactly backward. Wouldn't it be better, when profound differences proliferate, to promote pluralism? Isn't that exactly what's needed from the Ivory Coast to Tunisia to Libya to Egypt to Syria to Iraq to Yemen to Bahrain to Iran to Afghanistan to Pakistan? And that's just one month's 11-country catalog of misunderstandings that have turned into bloody conflict. Wouldn't those millions of people be well served by encouraging them to adopt a more generous multicultural understanding of things?

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From surprising sources, we're hearing exceptions to such thinking (see "Multiple division," March 26, 2011). Britain's David Cameron, for example, fears that the U.K. has in recent years passed on a message to immigrant minorities that Britain has nothing special to offer them. If we think that little of ourselves, the prime minister asks, why should we expect them to think more of us? Such a "passively tolerant society," Cameron said recently, says to its people: "As long as you obey the law, we will just leave you alone. We stand neutral between different values." But the prime minister has concluded that "a genuinely liberal country does much more; it believes in certain values and actively promotes them. . . . It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: To belong here is to believe in these things." Neither his fellow Brits-nor most Americans-have heard language like that for a long time.

Nor had the people of France, until their President Nicolas Sarkozy pronounced a few weeks ago that multiculturalism had failed. "Of course, we must all respect differences," he said, "but we do not want a society where communities [merely] coexist side by side. If you come to France, you accept to melt into a single community, which is the national community, and if you do not want to accept that, you cannot be welcome in France."

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said quite simply: "Multiculturalism has failed-totally."

So what's happened? What's prompted three powerful politicians (and millions of observant citizens) to abandon their politically correct allegiance to ideas that still dominate the media, academia-and the Obama administration? They got a dose of reality-that's what. They discovered what happens when an utterly pagan faith begins to take over a society.

If pluralism and multiculturalism refer merely to civility and the exercise of a kind-hearted spirit, then of course we're called to such an outlook and to such behavior. Christians in particular should join in such a commitment.

But if, on the other hand, pluralism and multiculturalism also argue that no one's beliefs are more true than someone else's-then we're most certainly on a road of godless quicksand. Then we're saying that there's no such thing as truth. Then we've bought big-time into paganism.

America's foreign policy is hard enough in any case-even for true believers. But when that policy is more and more dominated by a host of such slippery assumptions, then maybe you can understand why neither you, our president, nor anyone in between can tell you just what we stand for-in Libya, Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, or anywhere else.
Email Joel Belz

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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